In the third of our articles on the Store of Tomorrow, we explore how distributed edge computing can enable this model by allowing for more advanced computation where the data resides—in the retail store itself—without having to stream it to the cloud.
This matters because it allows retailers to get more value from their data, faster. It saves on data streaming costs. And combined with 5G connectivity, it provides much lower latency and speedier data transfers. It can increase resilience against network outages, and it gives retailers more control over where their data is processed.
Together, these capabilities unlock the real-time interactions and split-second automation that will be at the heart of future in-store shopping experiences. When retail infrastructure resides on the edge, the business can capture all the activity that’s happening in the store in the moment—and respond immediately.
Consider the potential for new retail experiences, including real-time personalized recommendations and promotions. Imagine being able to give tailored and context-specific suggestions and offers to customers via interactive screens or smartphones as they walk round the store.
Similarly, edge computing enables a retailer to introduce cutting-edge immersive experiences into the store. This can be particularly powerful in segments like beauty and apparel, where the ability to have augmented reality “virtual try-ons” of makeup or clothing can genuinely transform the customer experience.
And what about personal interactions with sales associates? The power and speed of edge computing means you can put customer insights into associates’ hands in real time, giving them new tools to augment customer experiences and explore upselling opportunities.
To make these kinds of retail experiences work in practice, you need near-instantaneous response times, to process large amounts of data, and to keep customer details completely secure—all of which are ideally suited to an edge-based solution.
Opening up a new plane of retail possibility
In fact, edge computing can be used whenever the speed, volume, and privacy of data matters. And there are a whole series of use cases that retailers can consider today.
Already, some retailers and fast-food restaurants are investing in the greater uptime and reliability that comes from transforming their mission-critical point-of-sale systems (POS) with edge capabilities.
And what about tackling shrinkage by combining edge-based POS systems with real-time AI-powered video analytics? With shrink increasing across all retail sectors, that has the potential to significantly reduce inventory loss and make a real impact on the bottom line.
Edge computing is also a key component of “walk out" checkout experiences. Here, video analytics are combined with real-time store sensor data to track shoppers’ purchases automatically, meaning they can simply grab what they need and leave—no more waiting in line!
What’s more, retailers can use sensors and cameras to create smart shelves which can monitor stock in real time to optimize shelf capacity and reduce wastage (including automatically ordering up new stock where needed).
Edge also opens up the possibility of personalized wayfinding for customers, reduced waiting times, real-time footfall and demand analysis, and much more.
On the edge of a retail revolution
It’s clear that edge technology will be a core retail capability in the near future. And in our Store of Tomorrow model, we set out a holistic vision of what that future will look like.
In particular, edge computing will be key to enabling a “dematerialized” shopping experience—a central component of the Store of Tomorrow. This is where retailers allow in-store customers to order up certain products—commodities or household staples for example—by scanning QR codes with a smartphone. They can then get their purchases served up in minutes by a micro-fulfillment center.
We believe these kind of experiences will play a central role as retailers look to merge their online and offline capabilities and so transform revenue growth and operational efficiency. Yes, there are logistical challenges and legacy constraints to overcome in many retail organizations. But there’s little doubt edge computing will play a key role in the future transformation of retail.
So it’s a question of when, not if, we take retail to the edge. Welcome to the Store of Tomorrow. Read full report.